Joshua Tree National Park Big Loop Backpack


You are my crazy spaghetti like, “nobody’s business”.

Joshua Tree is located in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of Southern California and is a perfect destination in the fall, winter, or spring. It is a climber’s playground with diverse formations and vegetation. Step a bit off the main highways and remote desert wilderness is yours. However, it is primarily waterless. For the backpacker, this means hauling extra water which is very heavy or caching water along the way. Luckily, placing a water cache is legal in Joshua Tree.

I wanted to create a somewhat remote overnight backpack loop in the park with varied terrain, some climbing, and opportunities to cache water. I used the program to map it out. The route we ended up hiking I recommend and was very diverse, interesting, scenic, challenging, and fun. I did not GPS our route. The route mapped out below is a close estimate of the trip.

Trip Details

TRIP DATE April 29-30, 2017
LENGTH About 32 miles, loop
ELEVATION LOSS AND GAIN 5144′ loss, 5141′ gain
TRAILHEAD Beginning and ending at Indian Cove Trail Head
DIFFICULTY Moderate to difficult on maintained trail and off-trail bouldering in canyons with some class 2 and 3 climbing in both Smith and Rattlesnake Canyons.
BEST TIME TO HIKE Winter, Spring, and Fall
WATER No healthy natural source,  2 water caches where the route crosses Park Blvd.
PERMITS Sign-in at trailhead at Backcountry Board
RESOURCES Joshua Tree National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)



Day 1: Indian Cove (Boy Scout Trail) Trailhead to Johnny Lang Canyon

The Indian Cove trailhead is located on the main road heading to the popular Indian Cove Campground. The route follows Boy Scout Trail to Big Pine Trail to North View Trail, water cache at Park Blvd., then cross-country to Smith Canyon, Smith Canyon to California Riding and Hiking Trail, cross-country up to Quail Mountain and down to Johnny Lang Canyon. We had originally planned to camp on the summit of Quail Mountain (tallest peak in the park), but after encountering high winds at the top, we decided to go to lower ground.

This day was filled with beautiful and rare blooms, due to the abundance of California rain this winter and lovely temperatures.

View of San Gorgonio from North View Trail
Cross-country to Smith Canyon
Entrance to Smith Canyon
Fun rock climbing in Smith Canyon
Claret Cup Barrel on summit of Quail Mountain

More Photos of the Day

Day 2: Johnny Lang Canyon to Indian Cove Trailhead

On our second day, we continued down Johnny Lang Canyon to Ryan Canyon, to our second water cache at Park Blvd., to Boy Scout Trail, then east to Willow Hole, then cross-country to Rattlesnake Canyon, and back to our car.

This was a challenging and diverse day with lots of class 2 and 3 climbing.

Desert Sunrise


Johnny Lang Canyon
View of Quail Mountain from Ryan Trail
Willow Hole Trail


Wonderland of Rocks
Camouflaged Rattlesnake
Access Canyon to Rattlesnake Canyon
Volkswagon size boulders to maneuver up, over, and through

More Photos of the Day

  • View all trip photos on Flickr



  1. So nice to see you on the trail again. It seems like it’s been a long time.

  2. Way to go getting out early in the year! Great photos!
    The rock-scrambling looks fun.
    What kind of hiking shoes would you recommend for this type trip? (some rock-climbing needs grippier soles, but most of the hike traditional soles?)

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      Hello Gary,
      It was really fun. My grippy La Sportiva Bushido trail runners worked perfectly. You do need some shoes that have a grip and bend a bit. The last canyon connecting to Rattlesnake was not easy. It kept my attention, big time. Thank you so much for commenting.

  3. Looks like you had some great weather and the desert blooms are beautiful. I was in Sedona a month a go and saw plenty of desert blooms and it was really fun.

    Glad to see you back blogging and getting a start to your summer. Are you going to do a blog update on your summer plans?

    • Christy "Rockin'" Rosander

      I have always wanted to go to Sedona! Hope this finds you well and happy. Yep, TODAY is my last day of school and I am off tomorrow morning for summer. You caught me, a blog will be posted tomorrow. It is good to be back.

      • I’ve been to Sedona nine times in less than four years. So that show’s you how much I think of the area. Over 100 trail heads in town, lots of fine art and fine people, and plenty of other things to do. It’s high desert at its best.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *